NEVER FORGOTTEN COAST

It has almost been a year since Category 5 Hurricane Michael slammed into Mexico Beach. Since launching the Never Forgotten Coast Campaign a few days after the storm hit, we have given away more than $40,000 in grants to local businesses, many of whom have already opened their doors.

Progress has been made, but Mexico Beach is currently only running at less than 30% of its pre-Michael economic state and the road to recovery is long.

WHAT'S NEXT?

The Never Forgotten Coast campaign is going to continue to support Mexico Beach by partnering with the Mexico Beach Community Development Council to catalyze economic growth, particularity in the tourism industry.

 
 
 
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THE WHY

On October 10th, Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle leaving a level of devastation and destruction never before seen by the state. Michael was the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in the Florida panhandle and was the third strongest storm in U.S. history. The storm had its most dramatic impact on the small coastal town of Mexico Beach, in Bay County, Florida. The storm leveled everything in its path, the homes and businesses that made up this vibrant community are gone, leaving many with nothing to return to.

The Workmans, a husband and wife creative team in Tallahassee, Florida, were personally affected by the storm. Chelsea Workman's father is a small-business owner in Mexico Beach whose personal business was severely impacted. The Workmans saw his struggle and the struggle of many other community members trying to recover and knew they had to help. The Workmans partnered with Tallahassee designer, Jesse Taylor, to start the Never Forgotten Coast campaign. The team designed a logo for their project and is actively printing and selling merch both online and through local pop-up shops to raise funds for the recovery efforts. They also partnered with award-winning Nashville photographer, Jeremy Cowart, and Tallahassee drone pilot, Jonathan Smith, to capture the stories of Mexico Beach and put faces to the city that has been a home and a destination for people all over the world.

The funds raised by the Never Forgotten Coast campaign will be used by local non-profits in Mexico Beach to provide micro-grants for small businesses and individuals to help cover what insurance will not. Our goal is to help the local economy get back up and running so that locals can get back to work and return to their normal lives. If we can provide opportunities to shop, eat and do business, then we can speed up the rebuilding process and help the community recover. Even something seemingly small, like a micro-grant, can have a significant impact on the region's economic recovery. Mexico Beach is filled with character and they have the grit and determination to rebuild better than before.

 
 

KEVIN & CYNDI LANIER
- KCSPORTFISHING -

 
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In 2016, we began looking to move closer to family, and had looked at Destin and Panama City Beach, but after taking a fishing trip with Bonita Thompson (98 Realty) out in Washington State, where we lived, and talking with friends all over the country, we decided to check out Mexico Beach.

We had never heard of it, but we found that we really liked it and it filled the requirements we set, being on the water to move the charter business over, within a day’s drive of our family. Our favorite parts are the small town atmosphere and the quietness and peacefulness. It’s never that crazy here and you still feel like you get nature and a quaint little town all in one. It doesn’t take you long to get to know who everyone is.

With Hurricane Michael approaching, we had no intention of evacuating. It was supposed to be a Tropical Storm or a Category 1 Hurricane, which to us wasn’t a big deal since we’ve been through a few of them. On Monday, we really just felt like we were prepping for a big rainstorm and anticipating losing power for a day at most.

When we saw that it had been upgraded to a Category 3, I realized I needed to do something with the boat. I stopped on my way back from out of town at a Home Depot in Alabama and got a generator and some gas cans. Having a boat in the water with a storm coming adds a different level of stress because you have to make sure you’re compliant with insurance rules. I was able to move it to Panama City and take it out of the water to put it in a boat yard.

Monday night, we just went to bed and Tuesday, we kept on with our routine. My daughters called, asking what we were doing, and when it was teetering on being a high Cat 3, we started really debating it. The final straw was when both girls conference called me around 10pm very worried and I knew I couldn’t put them through it, so just before 11pm, we packed the car and headed to Atlanta.

 

We thought maybe a window would break because we couldn’t board our house, but we were not thinking we could come home to nothing. We began to realize the magnitude of the destruction about the time we hit Marianna. Thousands of trees were down for hundreds of miles. It took us 4 1/2 hours to drive 57 miles.

Someone was able to communicate that our house looked to be ok and we got so excited to round the corner and see the shed still standing with our generator inside. But we felt guilty. Cyndi started crying because we kept asking “Why did we have a house when we have seen so much destruction? Why us?”

It was shocking driving into Mexico Beach. What we saw on TV was nothing compared to real life. You can hardly believe what you’re seeing. It was hard to reference what you were looking at on TV because the landmarks were gone, but your heart hurts when you see this little town that you’ve fallen in love with so badly damaged. We never expected there to be so much damage.

Once we found out we had a home that was livable, we opened our doors to do whatever we could to help. It will be a long time before there’s anything “normal” in Mexico Beach. We were in survival mode at first, making sure people have food and water and generators. But now we’ve moved into reality. The adrenaline has worn off and we are all tired. We know that Mexico Beach will never be exactly the same, but we hope it comes back similar to what it was. Our intent is to stay put and help rebuild. Professionally, we will have to adapt to things as they come because so much right now is up in the air. The canal where our boat was parked is full of debris and filled in with sand. It’s hard to say if KCSportfishing will look any bit like it did at the end of last year, but we want to rebuild and that’s what we’re going to do.

VISIT KCSPORTFISHING
FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | KCSPORTFISHING.COM

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“IT’S HARD TO SAY IF KCSPORTFISHING WILL LOOK ANY BIT LIKE IT DID AT THE END OF LAST YEAR, BUT WE WANT TO REBUILD AND THAT’S WHAT WE’RE GOING TO DO.” - KEVIN

 
 

NATE & MELBA ODUM
- MEXICO BEACH MARINA -

 
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We were both born and raised in Miami and we started vacationing on St George island in the late 80s, so that's how we discovered the Forgotten Coast. For our 20th anniversary, we went to Mexico Beach and began to wonder what it would be like to retire and move there to be near the beach and own a little business. In 2006, my sister, Debbie, and brother in law, Bill, ended up buying a condo in Mexico Beach, right next to the marina. He and I had always joked about retiring and buying a marina and shortly after they moved there, the marina became available for sale. So in our mid-life crisis of sorts, instead of buying a Harley like normal people, we bought a marina.

They started talking about Hurricane Michael on Saturday and kept saying it wouldn't be more than a Category 1 or 2 and by Monday, when we realized it was going to be more than that, it was almost too late to do much. When we woke up on Wednesday, we were watching the news and we could already feel the winds. Melba really held it together but when she started panicking, that's when I knew we needed to take this seriously. Debbie had just had knee replacement surgery so she wasn't super mobile, so Bill and I had to weigh our options and figure out what was best for our families. We went into it saying we are staying no matter what and in the past, they've always veered right or left. There is usually dry air, but this time, there was no reason for it to slow down and by the time we realized it was going to be bad, we weren't about to get 7 adults and 3 pets in a car to try to beat it out.

Have you ever been in an earthquake? It was very similar to an earthquake. You could feel it in your feet. If you pictured the eye wall, we were always on the wrong side of it. It was bad an hour before the eye came around, but it was a complete white out.

I don’t know why they called it a Cat 4 because we were experiencing 200+mph winds and holding onto doors, wondering when it was going to end because it seemed like it was so long.

We didn’t have boards on the window so we could see the whole thing. When the white out was over and you could start seeing damage, you knew it was going to be devastation. When you look for ground zero, it’s us.

 

We didn’t get out until the next day. The street was covered. There were houses in the road. Our nephew, we don’t know how he did it, but he came in the next day from Alabama through Panama City, before people even got out with chainsaws to start clearing road, and took Debbie and some of the other ladies out. All of our cars were flooded. You wouldn’t believe how many people we fit in his small SUV. We made it out of town to our ranch a few days later.

It’s a long road, mentally and emotionally and you’re going to get tired of looking at it. That’s when the insurance money and the offers get tempting. We saw it happen after Andrew.

Right now we want to focus on things are town need right now. The fishing side of this is going to have to wait because people need bread and eggs and things you can’t run 20 miles to get. We might just be the ones to get that up and running sooner than later. We can’t wait 3/6/12 months to clean this beach and canal up. We need to be thinking about that now. It’s a fishing village and it’s a lifeline here. We need commerce back. Restaurants, beach stores, another Tommy T’s for the kids. It’s all wrapped into the water. You’ll see other interests coming in, but there’s room for more.

Our world has been turned upside down, but the thought of not rebuilding has never crossed my mind. A lot of us aren’t built to give up. Is it bad? Heck yes it’s bad, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get fixed. It won’t be the same, but a lot of things might come back better. I think we’ll always be able to keep that charm that brought people here, but it’s going to have to change a little bit to grow. We need to be smart about it. The people that we work with and see on a daily basis at the Marina are incredible. This whole journey has been a dream. It speaks volumes to the people who live here and visit here and that’s why you have a lot of people that want that special piece of Mexico Beach back.

VISIT MEXICO BEACH MARINA
FACEBOOK | MEXICOBEACHMARINA.COM

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“Have you ever been in an earthquake? It was very similar to an earthquake. You could feel it in your feet.” - Nate

 
 

PEGGY & SHAWNA WOOD
- DRIFTWOOD INN -

 
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Mom decided she wanted to get the kids out of Atlanta and raise us in a small town, so we came down here in 1970 and my parents bought a beach house on 34th Street. A year later, we moved here and she wanted to find something to do where she could be home with all 3 kids, so they bought the Driftwood. It had 7 units and as they could, my parents built on, one more unit at a time. Over the years, as my dad made money in advertising in Georgia, mom was taking that money and putting it into the hotel. In 1994, it burned down and it was rebuilt it, but the front wall and inside 6 feet has remained the same.

Eighty percent of our customers were repeat customers. We weren’t a Ritz Carlton by any means. Our rooms had antiques, they had all tile floors, and we were the only place that allowed pets, but the repeats kept us alive. We had potlucks, movie nights, craft parties and painting classes. We built a chapel and had hundreds of weddings here. Vow renewals and memorials. It was such a special place.

Our favorite things about this community are the special things that we get to do. We have the special events committee that helps put on the gumbo festival, the wine festival, christmas tree lightings, etc. We did a campaign where you got a palm tree with a plaque and those trees have lined the beach for a long time.

We evacuated for Hurricane Michael at the last minute. We had guests that didn’t want to leave so we couldn’t go until they were all gone. We went up to Dothan and rode it out with the family. There was a lady at the Summer House that had a camera so we could see what was happening and when you saw the Driftwood from the front, everything looked relatively ok. We were so excited. But when we got back, man, it was such a hard blow.

We knew the houses were gone and the cottages were gone but we really felt ok knowing that the main building was there. But now they’re telling us they have to tear it down.

 

We came back from Dothan full time about a week after the storm and we moved back into our house about a month ago. The bottom floor will be completely gutted, but we’ll renovate it so mom can stay in it, since she lived in the top of the Driftwood.

Everything was gone. It was so heartbreaking. Pictures didn’t show what it was until we got here. I cried for 2 weeks. All these people wanted interviews but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it.

We’ve already got an architect, a contractor, and a structural engineer talking about plans and how we’re going to rebuild, but at this point we’re waiting for the city to let us know what we can do. We’re moving forward as much as we can right now and we want to be back in business as soon as possible. There was a meeting with local business owners and everyone was asked to raise their hand if they weren’t going to rebuild, and not a single hand went up. So the spirit is still here.

I want my kids to experience the Florida I did. I was the one that fought my mom the most when we moved here because I couldn’t believe that she would take me away from Atlanta to a small town with only a few kids. And now I fight her the most for not wanting to leave. I know everything will be shiny and new, and I think that’s ok, as long as they still keep the charm of Mexico Beach. We have a lot of property and there could be a lot of money if we sold out, but we don’t want to and we don't want to see big condos and big money come in. My parents got this property less than everyone else bid for it because they promised they would never put a big condo on it. And they never will.

VISIT DRIFTWOOD INN
FACEBOOK | DRIFTWOODINN.COM

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Everything was gone. It was so heartbreaking. Pictures didn’t show what it was until we got here. I cried for 2 weeks.” - Shawna

 
 

MICHAEL SCOGGINS
- KILLER SEAFOOD -

 
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I’ve been living in Mexico Beach for 15 years. I moved here from LA with my girlfriend and my business partner, who is also my girlfriend’s brother. I found this place because my brother had moved down here from Atlanta about 5 years before I did. When I moved here, I figured I could take things I learned out in LA as a bartender and open up a little restaurant here.

I wanted an open line kitchen and I thought it would be unique. People liked that view a lot. They knew nothing was hidden. Our building had previously been a post office, a police substation, a real estate office, and even someone’s vacation home, but we created something pretty special here.

I was never going to evacuate for the hurricane. I never have for any of the other ones we’ve had. I just wanted to be here for it. I obviously didn’t think it was going to turn and be as bad as it was, but I would do it again. Maybe I’m that protective of my things, but I would rather be present instead of watching it from a far. Had I not known that a tree was on my roof and water was pouring into my house, I wouldn’t have been able to get back the next day to start working on it. If you went away, you weren’t getting back in quick.

Near the beginning, the wind picked up then kind of died down a little bit, so I went down to the beach and took some pictures. I went back to the house standing in my garage, I was just watching this misty rain, painting a beautiful picture across my garage. My experience was relatively mild. I knew the safest place for me to be was my garage because no trees on my property or my neighbors could crush me where I was there. So we sat in the car in the garage for about an hour and a half in the height.

 

My property sits a little bit higher than everyone around me and we didn’t suffer near as much damage as some. I had two 100-foot pines come through my roof and I’ll have to replace the floor, but my neighbors across the street, they don’t have the front of their house anymore. But the storm cleared out of here really fast and I walked down to where the Lookout Lounge was. I saw some city folks riding around checking on people and Al Cathey, our Mayor, and his son came by and helped me check in on my neighbors. I figured when I saw the Lookout right after the storm that Killer Seafood didn’t stand a chance, but I wasn’t able to get far enough to see it the first night. I just went to bed early because I had no power or a generator at that point, then went out the next morning to explore. We just started to walk down 98 and it was ugly. It’s just utter devastation.

I would like to see everyone come back. How they come back and what it looks like will depend on codes and. It’s not going to be the mom and pop shanty looking place it was, so we’re going to have to come up with some other creative ideas to make ourselves look unique again. What form will Killer Seafood take when we rebuild? I don’t know. We have 2 lots here so I’ve envisioned a number of different configurations on how to make it a bigger better building. Even using shipping containers to make it a rustic bohemian place. The last thing I want is for it to be a shiny stainless steel kind of place.

Despite getting up every day for 15 years, coming down and tending to the business, we were thinking about what it would be like to sell or retire. I don't need to be doing it forever. But we’ve pretty much decided now that this isn’t the way I’m going to lose the business. I’ll decide when it’s time to turn loose of it. Not the other Michael.

VISIT KILLER SEAFOOD
FACEBOOK | KILLERSEAFOOD.NET

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“But we’ve pretty much decided now that this isn’t the way I’m going to lose the business. I’ll decide when it’s time to turn loose of it. Not the other Michael.” - Michael

 
 

GENE CLINE & SUSAN WADE
- PEOPLESSOUTH BANK -

 
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I’ve been coming down to Mexico Beach since the early 80’s and Susan started coming in the 70s. We met at Toucan’s and started dating in 2010. I retired from the state banking department in Georgia, I went to work for another bank for a few years and retired from that. So I moved down here and started doing beach patrol during the summer and then I joined the volunteer fire department. I was also code enforcement for the city. In 2013, the president of Peoples South called me and asked if I wanted to come back. Since the city manager was leaving and I wouldn’t want to work for anyone else, I decided to leave the city and go back into banking. So we bought the building and opened in June of 2014. We started at 0 and grew the bank to $16 million in 4 years. It was a lot of hard work.

I didn’t think too much of the storm. I thought it would go around Mexico Beach. Susan was pretty worried about me. I was in Georgia at her house for Columbus day and she didn’t want me to leave, but I knew I needed to get things ready, so I came back down and put up some sandbags to make sure water didn’t come in We closed the bank around 12pm on Tuesday and I was driving to Susan’s house by 2pm. I kept watching it, but I didn’t realize it was going to be this bad. Friends of ours told us that my house and the bank were gone, so obviously the sandbags didn’t help.

 

The first 10 days I drove 2 ½ hours back and forth to work every day. The president of the bank told me I could go and work at any of our 29 locations, but I chose to come back here. We moved our operations to the Port St. Joe office and I felt like I was obligated to do that, because I knew more about the area than anyone else. I’ll be at that office with my employees until we open this branch back up.

I didn’t know what to do. My house was shifted over and the Florida room was blown off. I was able to get some stuff out of it, but I lost all my work clothes. I also didn’t have flood or wind insurance because things were tight. We had just spent the last 2 years remodeling it and had just finished up in December, and I think FEMA is only going to give me $15,000, which won’t really help much. 

I don’t know if I will rebuild my house or not. I don’t know if I want to go into more debt. But as long as I work for the bank, I’ll stay down here. Susan has a really nice house up in Georgia and it’s only 120 miles away from here. She’s teaching for another year before she retires. And I’ll probably retire once I get everyone trained. I hope the community comes back fast and not commercialized. We want it to be the “Mayberry on the Beach” that it was.

VISIT PEOPLESSOUTH BANK
FACEBOOK | PEOPLESSOUTH.COM

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“We want it to be the “Mayberry on the Beach” that it was.” - SUSAN

 
 

SHARON CALL
- SHARON’S CAFE -

 
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I owned Sharon’s Cafe for 34 years. I’ve lived here for 35 years. I didn’t come here to open a restaurant, but it just kind of fell into my lap. I was very blessed. It just kind of took off from back in the 80s util now and it just got busier and busier. It was unique in a way that made people feel special and the customers truly appreciated the little things we would do, like the smiley face pancakes. Everyone was like family. I called my employees the cafe kids, because I thought of them as my children. We’ve had weddings here, baby showers, birthdays, every holiday we decorated. It was a special place.

I’m not a stingy person, and when one of my girls needed a washer, I’d get a washer. Someone needed a refrigerator, so I bought them a refrigerator. I spoiled my employees and I think they appreciated it. We were just very close. They’re all fine. No one got hurt and it makes me feel good to know that everyone is ok. It’s all in the Lord’s hands. I have very little to do with things but when I can do something, I certainly try my best. 

I was going to have people stay in my house with me for the storm. I really thought it was going to be ok. Tuesday night, the people that were going to stay with me called and told me they were going to leave and go to Marianna. I was so exhausted from hearing about the storm, so I went and laid down on my bed and turned on a football game. I started feeling sick in my stomach and I thought “This is strange. What in the world is happening?” So I turned the Weather Channel back on and just thought, “Oh no.” My neighbor behind me was supposed to stay with me but I called her and told her we needed to go. It took me a while to convince her, but we finally ended up leaving and getting to a friend’s house in Wewahitchka. It was frightening even up there.

 

I thought, surely we’d be able to stay in my house once it was over and I even thought the cafe might be ok. But we came in down 386 and the trees were like toothpicks all over the place. Half the time, you were driving off road, in the mud, trying to get through. We finally got back to Mexico Beach and I really just couldn’t believe it. I had to walk 2 blocks to get to my house, and the bottom half of the front door was gone. I walked in and everything was everywhere. I had 4 feet of water come up through the toilets and everything had just floated around. The smell was atrocious, but I knew we couldn’t get back to Wewa, so we stayed in my living room. Somehow, some small scorpions got into my house and began biting me while I tried to sleep, so I ended up sitting on a metal barstool for the rest of the night and just prayed for daylight to come. 

I hope the city will recover and not become another Panama City Beach/Destin/Seaside. I’m not saying anything is bad about those places but Mexico Beach was small and unique, without big condos and resorts. I hope it will become that again. As for the cafe, I can’t go anywhere without people asking me when I am going to rebuild. I do plan to rebuild. When they tell me what I can do, I plan on doing it.

VISIT SHARON’S CAFE
FACEBOOK

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“I was going to have people stay in my house with me for the storm. I really thought it was going to be ok.” - Sharon

 
 

TONY WHITFIELD & RUBY SCHELL
- LOOKOUT LOUNGE -

 
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I grew up in Wewa and I was gone for a long time, but I got a chance to move back here in 2001, to the place I had always dreamed of living. I bought a business and sold it, then I bought the Lookout. Ruby was at the Lookout before I got there. My number one question when I bought it was “Ruby, will you stay? Do you come with this place?” and if she would’ve said no, I probably wouldn’t have bought it. Then 4 or 5 years ago, we opened Shipwreck Raw Bar and last year, we opened up Paradise Crafthouse and Grill.

We do First Sunday every month, where we get together and hang out as a community and eat. Everyone had routines. People came for happy hour every day. We had karaoke and music on Friday and Saturday nights. Everyone knows everyone. You watch everyone’s kids grow up and then they’re having kids. It’s all a really tight community. Regardless of the hurricane or anything else, this is where I’ll be until I die. 

I was nervous from the beginning because my brother and I were in NY for my nephew’s wedding and we weren’t supposed to come back into town until Tuesday. I was talking to some of the fisherman down here and they kept telling me that it was about to turn into a big storm. So Sunday, after the wedding, I started calling to see if I could change our flights. It was going to be about $3000 because they hadn’t announced any travel advisories, so when they finally announced it, I woke up early Monday morning and switched our tickets for about $100 to fly out that day. We worked all night boarding all three restaurants up and after a quick nap, I boarded up my house.

In the moment, you never know what to do. I went and grabbed all my computers so if all else failed, we could at least have the system to get back up and running. We got on the road to Gulfport around 4pm and the roads weren’t busy at all. We figured at that point, everyone had either left or they weren’t leaving. I was watching storm chasers on my phone and was able to see one camera in a truck parked at an old gas station. It come on shore so quickly that they abandoned the truck, but you could see the storm surge coming up and up, until it finally engulfed the entire truck. So at that point, I knew the Lookout’s floor would be underwater.

 

But that didn’t even matter. Turns out, the roof had already been blown off. We still don’t even know where it is. Coming back, nothing could prepare you for what you would see when you got off i10. Whole forests were blown over. You could see right where the eye came through. It was a mess. 

They stopped me when I came back in and I just told them they better let me through or I would find every back way to get in. I had to see what was going on. Ruby was determined to get in too. She went off roading in her little car and despite some scratches along the way, she made it all the way here. Joe, her husband, passed away right before the storm so this was a double whammy for sure. But luckily, being off the beaten path a little bit, her home didn’t receive as much damage as some.

As for now, you just have to plan for the future. We had 70 people working for us and right now, those 70 people are out of work. Our main goal is to get as many of those people back working before they leave permanently. Hopefully everyone will find a place to live. We are going to get Shipwreck open first because that’s where we had the most people employed. Then, we’ll get Paradise opened, but as the Lookout because that was our community. We miss it. We’re trying to shift the focus to be more of a community cafe. Before we were a destination for tourists, but now we’ll go to morning, noon and night. 

I want to get back to some “abnormal.” I want to get up and ride my bike, go walk on the beach, go to work, have Ruby keep fussing at me. I don’t think I’ve talked to more than 2 people who said they aren’t coming back. For us, this building is just stuff and we can rebuild, but the people that came through the doors and that community that was built…nothing can destroy that.

VISIT LOOKOUT LOUNGE
FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | LOOKOUTLOUNGE.COM

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“For us, this building is just stuff and we can rebuild, but the people that came through the doors and that community that was built...nothing can destroy that.” - TONY

 
 

DAN CLARK
- BEACHWALK & THE GROVE -

 
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I’ve been coming to Mexico Beach my whole life. Every summer we would come to the family beach house. We bought Beachwalk almost 10 years ago and then about 3 years ago, we purchased The Grove. We don’t live here full time, but we come here very often. I love the beach. I have so many memories on the beach and it’s awesome to have those memories as a kid and now all grown up, getting to experience things in a different way. To be a business owner down here was something I never thought would happen but the opportunity was just right on both properties and I’m really happy about it.

It’s always been a special place. More and more people have discovered it and I think those people have appreciated it for what it was and what it wasn’t. It’s unique.

Going through the history, storms usually turn to the left or to the right, so I never thought it would be here. We’ve never experienced anything like this so you begin to think they’re over sensationalizing it. But the one thing that really hit home was when they started saying 35 miles off Panama City, you realize Mexico Beach is now on national television. When you realize it was hitting dead on, it was a sort of shock and disbelief. You started hearing all the stories and a lot of false information, but you start worrying about people. Someone who’s helped us for almost 18 years at Beachwalk was staying off 15th street and I had no idea if she was ok.

They showed photos and clips on the news channels and photos are great to get an idea, but to see it in person, it was even worse. You try to find the landmarks you’re so comfortable seeing daily, only to realize they’re gone. You see people’s personal belongings all over the place. You walk down the street to see beach houses that have been there forever and now they’re just gone. It’s unbelievable. It doesn’t seem real sometimes. We have a lot of damage to the home we have down here. It was more than just a weekend getaway with a lot of family ties so it’s hard.

 

But that didn’t even matter. Turns out, the roof had already been blown off. It’s like working in triage right now. You work so hard so quickly to get everything to stop bleeding, then you have to step back and figure out how to fix the problem as a whole. You start losing track and you don’t even know what day it is. There’s no sense of normal. You get lost so quickly because the landscape has changed so much that you sometimes don’t even know what road you’re on.

It’s impacted everyone. We’re all trying to get back to daily life. It’ll be nice to no longer have to rip out drywall and clean up. It’ll be nice to not have to worry about what the next rainfall will do. But on the other hand, because life was always so busy, this has made me stop and look a little bit longer. You enjoy the sunsets a little bit more. You appreciate the simplest things.

I have no doubt that this place will come back. We’ll be fine, but it’ll take time. We won’t turn into something big, but I hope it comes back the right way. You’ll have the restaurants and businesses reopen and we’ll probably see some new faces, because that’s part of life and part of growth. It will be different, but we can now have the opportunity to build things stronger than before.

VISIT THE GROVE
FACEBOOK | MEXICOBEACHGIFTS.COM

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“It’s like working in triage right now. You work so hard so quickly to get everything to stop bleeding, then you have to step back and figure out how to fix the problem as a whole.” - DAN

 
 

CHUCK GUILFORD
- CHARISMA CHARTERS -

 
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I lived in Overstreet and delivered milk to residents in Mexico Beach in the 1940’s until I was drafted into the Army. I served for over 20 years, in 2 different wars and I finally came back home in June or 1971. 2 months later I became the 2nd mayor of Mexico Beach, after the great Charlie Parker.

I wanted to be sure that Mexico Beach kept it charm and it’s quaintness, and I saw how Destin and Panama City beach were expanding, so I wanted to establish an ordinance to limit any building to 48 feet. This is Old Florida and I wanted to help keep it that way.

My brother owned a charter business many years ago and after I was done being the mayor, I bought a service station with 8 motel rooms. My brother was a bit of a party boy and would often not show up for early morning charters on the weekends and often times, his clients would come into the motel looking for him. After a while, I just started taking people out on my own and realized how much I loved it, so I bought a boat and sold the service station in the 1970’s. That’s how Charisma Charters came to be.

My favorite thing about Mexico Beach is the beach. It’s unique because of how it sits near St. Joe Bay. We don’t have undertow or rip tides so it’s relatively calm and safe. I also loved the pier. I was such an iconic part of the coast.



 

I studied meteorology at the University of Nebraska while I was in the army, so I fully expected this storm to be big. It was the most powerful storm I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. Honestly, I was more concerned about my friends and neighbors because I wanted to make sure they were safe and had secured what they needed to before evacuating.

I came back to asses the damage and it was just overwhelming. Betty always tells me that I talk a lot, but I was almost speechless after I had seen everything. I had 2 cars parked right in front of my house and both were in the canal when we returned. Belongings traveled across the canal and over 98 into the woods and everything was just a mess. It was heartbreaking..

Mexico Beach has rebuilt before, and I believe we will again. I hope that they clear the canal so we can bring our charter and other charters back to Mexico Beach. I have done everything I can in my lifetime to help maintain the old time charm of this city and I think my concern, along with many others, is that it will become big money and that charm will be lost. But we want to rebuild and everyone we’ve talked to wants to as well. We are going to move forward.

VISIT THE CHARISMA CHARTERS
CHARISMACHARTERS.COM

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“I CAME BACK TO ASSES THE DAMAGE AND IT WAS JUST OVERWHELMING. BETTY ALWAYS TELLS ME THAT I TALK A LOT, BUT I WAS ALMOST SPEECHLESS AFTER I HAD SEEN EVERYTHING.” - Chuck

 
 

ALYSON & JUSTIN GERLACH
- PRISTINE PROPERTIES -

 
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The company started in October 2003 with Justin’s parents as a construction company, then they started renting out the houses they had built. We moved back to town and started helping them out, and we ended up buying it out in 2008.

Mexico Beach has always been unique. We do business outside Mexico Beach as well, but my office is here and I love that it’s not as busy and not as big as other places. There’s a history here that please like the Cape don’t have. There’s establishment that’s been here for a long time. At the same time, the clientele we serve is also unique. You can have a house to rent that was built back in the 50’s, right next to a house that was built 3 years ago, and you’d always have them filled. It’s a simple place and it’s special.

We didn’t even know about the storm until Sunday night, but Monday morning was just crazy. Gulf County had already issued a mandatory evacuation and we spent the entire day contacting every guest that we had in our 250 properties to make sure they were out. When we got home, we finally had a chance to talk about what we wanted to do for our own family and we just didn’t think there was enough time for it to get really big, so we just decided to have some of our family who lives in town ride it out at our house. But I woke up about 6am Tuesday morning and just had this feeling that this one was different.

We had already packed because we were already going out of town that Thursday so we packed up the car, Justin grabbed a few things from the Mexico Beach office, boarded up the windows and then we left. My parents had a friend in Eufala so we all went up there together. Justin left on Thursday morning to come back down and got into PSJ in a gas company truck that a buddy was driving since they wouldn’t let him in.

 

I didn’t watch the news while we were gone. From the moment it hit my phone was going crazy. I was talking with home owners and guests. I didn’t even come back to Port St. Joe until the following week. I just wasn’t prepared. I had to work myself up to it. This is my spot. It’s my home. I couldn’t bring myself to it. Justin came back the day after the storm. He just said it was mind blowing. He told me the 2 things he remember the most were the smell with everything being wet and starting to get moldy, and the sounds, with things being silent, but also hearing smoke detectors going off constantly. It was somewhat apocalyptic feeling.

We’re just finally at a point where we have caught up with property owners and guests, talking about the remainder of this year. So we’re just now getting our heads above water to figure out what’s next. We want to be back in Mexico Beach for sure. It’s sort of a terrible ironic twist that 2018 was our best year by far in terms growth and revenue. We had almost 100 properties between PSJ and Mexico Beach. Half of them are completely gone and the rest are not in any place to be rented, with the exception of 1 and it’s currently occupied by the owner.

Realistically speaking, it’ll all come back. It’s more of a question of how fast will it come back and what will it look like when it does? Obviously everything will have to be new, and built better and stronger, but I just want it to keep its character and it’s history. A lot of our guests have reached out already and said they will be back, so that’s been a glimmer of hope that’s helped us get through.

VISIT THE PRISTINE PROPERTIES
FACEBOOK | VISITFLORIDABEACHES.COM

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“JUSTIN TOLD ME THE 2 THINGS HE REMEMBER THE MOST WERE THE SMELL WITH EVERYTHING BEING WET AND STARTING TO GET MOLDY, AND THE SOUNDS, WITH THINGS BEING SILENT, BUT ALSO HEARING SMOKE DETECTORS GOING OFF CONSTANTLY. IT WAS SOMEWHAT APOCALYPTIC FEELING.” - ALYSON

 
 

MONICA FABIE
- CASTAWAYS SOUTHERN CUISINE -

 
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We moved here from the St. Simons area and were here about for about 3 years before we opened the restaurant. It was something we’d always wanted to do. It was a lot of hard work making it a reality. 3 years of blood, sweat and tears, but honestly, it felt like a lifetime because of the people we met and the relationships we built in that time.

Our motto was Faith, Family & Friends. It was what defined our culture. God brought us here and we could feed people’s bodies and souls at the same time. When you’re here, you’re family. That’s how it was all over town. It’s not just a random place, but home. There were so many traditions and memories here.

None of us were concerned at first with the hurricane. We came to the restaurant and brought in all of our chairs and umbrellas. We just figured we’d go out for the night to a hurricane party, wake up the next morning and be back to work. Maybe even clean up some branches and sand, but we didn’t expect any more than that. As the storm grew stronger, we figured we’d lose some trees around town.



 

Once we realized that this was going to be worse than everyone thought, we left. My mom lives in Havana so we were able to make it up there to stay. But it was even bad up there. Once the storm passed, we couldn’t even get out of the driveway because of the trees that we’re down. The shock of seeing everything was almost overwhelming.

We got back and the building was just destroyed. We went straight into survival mode. Because we didn’t clean out any food, we grabbed whatever we could to feed people. People came in and immediately started helping out and hauling stuff. The outpouring of love and support was incredible.

Right now things are hard. It’s difficult to try to help people understand without being overwhelmed. Everyday tasks are difficult. There’s so much uncertainty. You just have to take things one step at a time so you don’t go insane.

I hope to see OUR Mexico Beach at the end of all of this. I hope people stand united through it and help one another and rebuild what we've always had. We hope to perseveres through the charm of our Mayberry. No one wants to see waffle house or a traffic light. Here, everyone knows your name, everyone is special. They’re not just your friends. They're your family. I hope it stays that way.

VISIT THE CASTAWAYS SOUTHERN CUISINE
FACEBOOK

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"EVERYDAY TASKS ARE DIFFICULT. THERE’S SO MUCH UNCERTAINTY. YOU JUST HAVE TO TAKE THINGS ONE STEP AT A TIME SO YOU DON’T GO INSANE." - MONICA

 
 

RON ADKISSON
- HIGH TIDE BEACH SERVICE -

 
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After 20 years of going to Destin, we just got tired of it for many reasons, so we began exploring other areas on the coast. We found a little house in July 2010 and we began working on fixing it up over the next few years. We lived in Mexico Beach part time, in the summers, until this past May, when we moved here full-time and are now Florida residents. During the summer, the tourists were there and it was great, but our favorite time of the year was September through March. The pure attraction for us was the small town down time and the quietness. It was very pleasant.

We started our business, renting chairs and umbrellas on the beach in the summer, in 2014. It was a small business and it was just something for us to do in the summer when we retired. Most of the people we rented to were families who needed the shade. Others like it because it was convenient. We developed some great relationships over the years. We always knew who we were dealing with. It was a very interpersonal small business. There were some people who always came back every year because they enjoyed what we did.

When we first started tracking the storm, it was still a Category 2. We've ridden out a Cat 1 and a 2 several years ago and it wasn’t all that bad. I told my wife “If it doesn't get any worse than this, I’m going to stay.” But when it turned to a 3 and kept gaining velocity, I boarded the windows and we drove to Alabama. We watched most of the devastation from the motel, and talking with people that stayed. We saw houses going up the street and things going up the canal and we knew it wouldn't be a good scenario.

Watching it on TV did not prepare me for the gut wrenching realization that our little town is gone. I don't know if it will ever be back the way it was and I’d like to say it will be, but when you're here seeing it all, there's a sinking feeling the pit of your stomach that it will never be the same place that it was.



 

We tried to come back the next day, but they wouldn't let us back in. Finally got back in on Saturday morning. It was one of those things that we were prepared for the worst, but you never really get prepared to see the total devastation of all your things. We didn't realize it was going to hit how it did or we would've taken more stuff. We just grabbed a couple changes of clothes because we were going to clean up the next day. But when we returned, all that was left was the slab. We weren't able find any part of the house. We only found a few random things from inside the house as we were walking around.

It felt like letting the air out of a balloon very slowly. We worked for years on that house. So much work, love and friendship, I had so many friends help me over the years with projects. It’s like all the air inside of me was sucked out until I was completely deflated.

I think we all are under the realization that it was a special little place and it was one of the few places left of Old FL. When it comes back and it's all brand new, will it still have that feel or will it be like 30A? I would like to think there will still be some of that old town feel but it depends on the political powers making the right decisions.

We’re currently staying with some friends in Missouri and we’ve been in contact with FEMA, who said they’d be bringing us a trailer to stay in until we figure things out. Our house was ground level and we have to wait to see what they’re going to do with the flood zone declaration. We don’t want to have to climb stairs or be up on pilings. We haven’t come to the point to make any other decisions until we hear back about the zoning. We want to be back. We want to rebuild. But we’ll just have to wait and see. We appreciate everyone who has done business with us, more than they will ever know. We appreciate everyone we’ve met through this experience and we would love to see them come back and help keep Mexico Beach a special place for many years.

VISIT HIGH TIDE BEACH SERVICE
FACEBOOK

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"IT FELT LIKE LETTING THE AIR OUT OF A BALLOON VERY SLOWLY. WE WORKED FOR YEARS ON THAT HOUSE. SO MUCH WORK, LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP, I HAD SO MANY FRIENDS HELP ME OVER THE YEARS WITH PROJECTS. IT’S LIKE ALL THE AIR INSIDE OF ME WAS SUCKED OUT UNTIL I WAS COMPLETELY DEFLATED." - RON

 
 

DENA FROST
- FROST POTTERY -

 
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My husband and I were living in Lafayette, Louisiana and we decided to just get away one weekend. We headed to Panama City because we used to love going there, but when we got there, they were in the process of tearing down the hotel we used to stay in to put up a high rise. So we decided to keep driving East for the first time ever, and arrived in Mexico Beach. We knew as soon as we got there that we wanted to live there because it just immediately felt like home. 

Shortly after, Katrina hit our area and people were in need of homes, so we put our home up for sale, sold it quickly and went to Mexico Beach to find a place to live. We spent the first 5 years right outside Mexico Beach and we opened Frost Pottery. We finally found a spot in Mexico Beach so we picked everything up and moved it into town. Our business was just a happy place. We made so many friends, we taught people how to grow things and we gave people our time when they came to see us.

We had been having an incredible year, but in August, my husband passed away. We had worked so hard, building this business together, and I was hoping we would have more time to just enjoy what we had created.

We had packed up the garden many times for hurricane and we had never had damage of any significant before. But this one came really quick, without much warning. We packed up as much as we could and put things inside the building. I didn’t want to leave because it was not only my business and what I had worked hard to build, but it was also like I was leaving my husband behind. We ended up leaving with a bunch of people who didn’t have a place to go and we got up to Enterprise, AL, where we watched what was happening at our home.

Thursday, a few of us headed back to Mexico Beach and I made it to where Toucan’s was. It was a horrible drive. It was bizarre because the only people that were here were people with dogs looking for bodies. I was able to get to my house. It had been wrecked. The front porch, back porch and roof were blown off and it had taken in about a foot of water. 

 

Someone was able to get out and walk around farther down the road and they brought me back a picture of the pottery garden. It just broke my heart. It was like losing my husband all over again. I just didn’t know how I could lose so much in such a short time period. I knew it was going to be really bad, but I still didn’t expect to see what I saw. Michael just destroyed our home, our business, and our lives. It just took everything.

A few days later they were just grabbing stuff in massive piles and just throwing everything away. It didn’t matter what it was, they were just clearing it all out. Luckily we knew someone who was able to hold them off from clearing out the pottery that was left on the property. We didn’t know what we were going to do because it was way more work than we could handle, so we posted it on Facebook and had 60K hits on the post with people from all over wanting to help. The problem however was that they weren’t letting anyone in to help.

I knew that I couldn’t let the pottery garden die, so for now, we’ve moved into a building in Eastpoint. Our plan is to keep that space open and when Mexico Beach is ready, then we will bring another location back to Mexico Beach, because this is where it began and it should be here. For a little town, we were very wealthy with friends. I miss seeing them and I’m hoping we can get back to each other soon. This has been a really hard thing to deal with and I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. 

We’ve had customers donate things to us and we might do some fundraisers because we have a long way to go. The amount of people who have reached out has been incredible. We’ll get through it and we’ll do what we can with what we have. But we will definitely rebuild and regrow the pottery garden. 

VISIT FROST POTTERY
FACEBOOK | TWITTER | FROSTPOTTERYGARDEN.COM

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"We’ll get through it and we’ll do what we can with what we have. But we will definitely rebuild and regrow the pottery garden. " - DENA

 
 

RALPH & CATHEY HOBBS
- PARKER REALTY -

 
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I moved to Mexico Beach in 1949 with my father, mother\, sister, grandmother and uncle. My parents were active founding members of this community. My grandmother owned and operated Mexico Beach Grocery and my father became the first Mayor of Mexico Beach in 1969. My parents started their real estate business in the rear of Mexico Beach Grocery and in the late 1950s, they moved to the current location on Highway 98. We added on to the building and renovated it, and after my father passed away in 2003, I became the owner and active broker of Parker Realty.

I grew up here and I love everything about this place. It’s more than just a place for me. It’s my home. It holds so many memories from so many different times in my life. We watched it grow from not much to the special place it is today.


The Tuesday before the storm hit, they were still projecting it to hit as a 3, so we were staying. We went through Opal in 1995 so we weren’t that worried about it. But when the barometric pressure kept changing and it kept growing stronger, we made the decision to leave at midnight. It was a decision that was made very hesitantly and honestly, the family made me go because I didn’t want to. But I don’t regret leaving, especially after seeing what it did to this city.



 

It was just unbelievable. Opal wasn’t even bad compared to this. Opal was definitely bad, but Michael is almost beyond comprehension. We could’ve never even dreamed it would be like this. We never dreamed that this would happen to our home, our business, our life.  All of our rentals are gone. Our office is torn apart. We lost 2 cars. At the end of the day, it’s just stuff, but it’s so hard to believe.

For the time being, we are shifting our focus to sales because all of our rental properties are gone. We are working to rebuild our office so we can be up and back to our new normal as soon as possible. As for our city, we would love to have it back like it was. It was such an incredible place and unfortunately, I think it will lose a little bit of it’s charm. But we will be here and die here because it’s Mexico Beach and it’s the only place we ever want to be.

As time goes on, things change and things have to progress. People usually don’t like it, but it’s necessary for growth. Now that our city is pretty much a blank slate, it’s time to make some progress and update some things. We can make things more efficient and better than they were before. We can get this city to come back to life. It will be different but it will come back. And eventually, our snowbirds will come back and our families that vacation will come back. You don’t come to a place for 25/30 years and then just stop. They won’t give up on us and we won’t give up on rebuilding.

VISIT PARKER REALTY
FACEBOOK | MEXICOBEACHVACATIONS.COM

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"IT WAS SUCH AN INCREDIBLE PLACE AND UNFORTUNATELY, I THINK IT WILL LOSE A LITTLE BIT OF IT’S CHARM. BUT WE WILL BE HERE AND DIE HERE BECAUSE IT’S MEXICO BEACH AND IT’S THE ONLY PLACE WE EVER WANT TO BE." - CATHEY

 
 

WYLIE PETTY
- EL GOVERNOR MOTEL -

 
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I moved to Mexico Beach in 1993. I started working at the Top of the Gulf restaurant, which was owned by the El Governor Motel. When they closed the restaurant, Mr. Baxter, who owned the El Governor asked me to come work for him, so I started in maintenance at the hotel cleaning up from Hurricane Opal and construction of the Annex. Moved into security, then moved to assistant manager then in 1997, became the General Manager. We have a huge repeat clientele and we have people that still come year after year, from long before I even became the manager.

Mexico Beach is Mayberry on the Beach. All the people who own and run the businesses here are people who live here. They care so much and there's no one who can run the business like you can and will, so they want to do it right. I’m the chairman of special events committee, that raises money for the fireworks show at 4th of July and puts on the gumbo festival and the art and wine festival. The El Governor sponsors and decorates the park for Christmas. The El governor is like the heartbeat of Mexico Beach. It's the biggest property in the city. We're so blessed to be there, so we feel like it's our responsibility to bless the community in return.

Plans for the hurricane were a topic of conversation because we were planning for the Art & Wine festival that following weekend. We debated on canceling but we decided to wait and see what happened because at the time, it was just a Category 2. Next day, I made a choice to cancel because it was just starting to get crazy and once I got into the El Governor, we had just got word from the city that there was going to be a mandatory evacuation.  It made my job harder because there was a lot of rearranging to do, bills to settle, rooms to evacuate, but once I got everything done, I went home in Calloway. My partner was at his mother’s house helping build a porch on her house so I told him to just stay there and I would ride it out at home. I didn't think anything of it because I've been through many storms.

The first part of the storm, the winds were blowing straight down my road, so I thought, as long as they continued to do that, we would be ok. The eye wall went over and it was just like everyone says. The wind stopped, the sky was blue, everyone went outside to assess damage. But as soon as the winds started picking up again, it hit everyone that we were only in the eye and it was about to get ugly. The wind started blowing straight at my house. I was scared to death and I took my dogs into the bathroom. I heard my front door blow in and heard some things break, so I ran out into the living room and realized the pressure and the wind had busted my deadbolt. So I stood at my door for 2 1/2 hours holding my door closed. I got knocked down twice, but I just kept saying the Lord’s Prayer over and over until it finally let up.



 

When it was all over, the house ended up being ok. We didn’t have any trees fall and we had stuff all in the yard, but I have friends and neighbors who don’t have homes anymore. There were houses in the road. It was unbelievable. My mind just went straight to cleaning up because I needed something to do, but as soon as my partner got home, I gave him a hug and just broke down and lost it. I was like I was in shock. At the motel, we had two birds, Charlie and Angel. The guests loved them and we had them for about 2 years. For the storm, we moved them to the bookkeepers office on the third floor, so my mind went from my home to finding these birds. So when I got there, I whistled to try to call them and they whistled back. So I was able to beat the door in and we got the birds.

For me, I’m back working at the motel, but I’ve lost basically every employee. They’ve sold their houses, moved away, they're gone. For the motel itself, it got torn apart a good bit, but we've been deemed safe and structurally sound by architectural engineers. The city hasn't let us know if we are damaged more than 50% and we don’t know the new rules yet, but we’re moving in the right direction to get everything fixed up and back open.

I'm scared that Mexico Beach will lose its spirit and what everyone fell in love with when they moved/visited. With new building codes, it'll be really expensive to rebuild. You’ll basically have to be rich to build and you have to have that middle class to work, so I worry about what we're going to look like. But as long I'm there, I'm not going to let people forget what we were. It's a small town but it's beautiful and I love it. I've never felt more at home.




VISIT EL GOVERNOR MOTEL
FACEBOOK | ELGOVERNORMOTEL.NET

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" I STOOD AT MY DOOR FOR 2 1/2 HOURS HOLDING MY DOOR CLOSED. I GOT KNOCKED DOWN TWICE, BUT I JUST KEPT SAYING THE LORD’S PRAYER OVER AND OVER UNTIL IT FINALLY LET UP." - WYLIE

 
 

GEORGE HUNTER
- SHELL SHACK -

 
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I was born and raised in Mexico Beach. My parent’s built the building that the Shell Shack was in, in 1967 and about 10 years ago, my wife and I took over the business. There was hardly anything there when they opened and it’s been growing ever since. My mom and dad started the business selling bait and tackle and mom made little novelties from seashells, but we also carried fresh seafood and had a little retail market.

I love the quietness of Mexico Beach and the people that are here. You get to know people over the years and you start to see people coming back year after year. 99% of the people that live here and visit here are great people. You just ignore the ones that aren’t but most people don’t realize how special this place has become because of the people that are here.


Anytime you see a storm build up off the little corner of the peninsula, they always make me a little nervous because they almost always come due North. We got everything ready to stay and my buddy down the road asked to stay with us, because I don’t leave unless the winds are at least over 100mph winds and at that point, it was only forecast to be a 1 or a 2. After we cleaned out the basement and boarded up the windows Tuesday, we went to bed and honestly, I really wasn’t that nervous.

My buddy who was going to stay with us called me Wednesday morning about 5:30 and said “You really need to look at the weather. We’re not coming to your house anymore.” So at that point, I got nervous. My sons live really close to our house so I called them and told them we needed to make different plans so we went to Wewa to my sister-in-law’s house.

We were watching trees fall and fences blow down. We saw one of those huge towers standing, then had a big squall line come through, then as soon as it let up, the tower was gone. At 3pm, the winds died down enough that we started heading home. From 3-11pm, we cut through pine trees, trying to cut enough of a path to get to Overstreet to make sure everyone was ok. I just knew from seeing all the trees that it was going to be bad. I had some friends text me and tell me to not even worry about rushing to the store because everything was just gone. It was just a gut-wrenching feeling to know everything you’d worked so hard for was destroyed.

 

I never expected what I saw. I’d had at least 5 feet of water in the building. The roof was caved in and the windows were blown out. It was a mess. I felt so bad because it wasn’t just me. It was everyone. I’ve seen this place developed over the years from a few houses to what it had become and it was just amazing to see how much was wiped away. Every time I go down there now, I keep realizing more things are gone.

But we had some amazing customers. Most of our customers were repeats and they were all special. I had a customer call me from Colorado at about 11pm one night after the storm. I answered the phone very confused and he proceeded to tell me that he had called just about every George Hunter in the state of FL because he had 3 great aunts who needed to make sure I was still alive.

In my view, we better get ready to embrace some change. We do plan to rebuild if we don’t have to go up too high. If I have to go up 10 feet, I’ll have to put an elevator in for handicap and I just don’t know if I can afford that even with the good business that I had. We’ve already hired an engineer so we are currently moving forward but I know it will take a long time. Most of my revenue is tourism and right now there’s nowhere to stay, so I’m in no hurry to get a gift shop back up and running. On the bright side though, my view at the Shell Shack has improved quite a bit and the beach is looking great.

VISIT SHELL SHACK
FACEBOOK

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"IT WAS JUST A GUT-WRENCHING FEELING TO KNOW EVERYTHING YOU’D WORKED SO HARD FOR WAS DESTROYED." - GEORGE

 
 

AL CATHEY
- MAYOR OF MEXICO BEACH -

 
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My family moved here in 1953 from Memphis, Tennessee. My dad was Charlie Parker's wife's brother, and the Parker family was the founding family of Mexico Beach. I was raised in the Mexico Beach Grocery which is where Beachwalk is now. In 1974, we built the hardware store and have been a family owned business ever since.

I served on the city council for 4 years in the mid-80s. In 2005, I ran again for city council, and less than 6 months after being elected, the mayor passed away. I was the mayor pro tem at the time, so I filled in as mayor and ended up serving in that position for 10 years. I decided to take a break in 2015 but then ran again in 2017 and I'm currently serving again as the mayor.

The most endearing thing about our community is the people. We're pretty laid back and we enjoy what we have because we have the ability to express ourselves and not have to be commercialized. We have so many people that come to town, whether they are snowbirds, visitors, or residents and I personally love seeing others enjoy what our community has to offer. As a business owner that serves the public, it's neat to be able to get to know your customers. They share their stories with you and through the years, I've made so many friends because of people who come to Mexico Beach because they love our quaintness, uniqueness and charm and because we take the time to invest in our community.

I seldom pay attention to anything in the Gulf until they say it's within 48 hours of landfall. So Tuesday we went to work just like it was any other day, but by noon, they had issued mandatory evacuation orders. By that afternoon, it was fairly obvious that we would have some sort of impact, but we went on with our day and decided to make a decision the next morning. So Wednesday, again, we got up and went to work. We didn't stay long but myself, my wife, my youngest son and a friend made the decision to stay in town at our house. We stayed calm, but we had obviously never experienced a storm of that magnitude moving at that speed.

By the grace of God, our house did remarkably well. We had some damage but it was livable. As far as everything else, my son's house was destroyed, the laundromat, the hardware store, some of the warehouses, they're gone. I didn't know that Mother Nature could tear up so much in such a short amount of time. About 4pm, we went outside. It was difficult to move around and we couldn't get out even if we wanted to. I just remember thinking about the beach side of 98 and our businesses near there and just wondering how bad it was going to be. But the next day, reality set in.

My son and I walked down to the hardware store and it was really hard to wrap your mind around the devastation. The closer we got to the businesses, I remember dealing with the emotions of knowing that what we had built over almost 40 years was most likely gone. Everything we were seeing as we were walking was just in rubble. We didn't really speak much on our walk because I think we were both just shocked. It was difficult to process.

As the mayor, I found it difficult to process where and how to start. The thoughts still linger in my mind of how to find the strength to stay the course and get through the devastation. People that depend on the local leaders and government to set the pace and the standards and they need to feel good that what we had here will return. We can't just sit around and wait for someone else to do it. I'm a very positive thinker and I don't have time to get bogged down in little petty issues when we have bigger things to address. We need to get it right the first time. When we put out information, we need think through it thoroughly beforehand. I take that responsibility very seriously.

I think it's important to find some normalcy every day. We want to get things back up and going in town. Finding temporary spaces or food trucks for businesses that are capable right now to get up and running. When people are here, we want to make sure they can get information on real estate, things that are open, plan that are being made. We want to get the canal back open.

The moratorium is set to end on February 8th and I think it's critical that we do not extend that. We need to have done our due diligence and know what the building requirements will be for certain areas of town. That way, we can issue new building permits so we can see new activity. We have to get past the debris stage and I think the government plays a vital role in not getting bogged down and continuing to move forward.

We are dedicated and committed to helping get our family owned business back up. We were very fortunate that one of the warehouses stayed together well enough that my son was able to patch it up and get the hardware store back up. We're doing the best we can just like everyone else. We're survivors and we know how to roll up our sleeves and get it done.

I truly trust the pulse that I have for this community, in terms of who we are and what we want to be. It's been that way for 70 years. We absolutely could become just another cookie cutter coastal community. But the real effort comes in maintaining the charm in what we had. I'm dedicated to not change the Land Development Regulations and the Top Plan. To preserve those things that we have in place, for setbacks and height restrictions and density issues that will control the growth pattern moving forward. If you do that, then I can say without hesitation that our quality of life will not be for sale. We will preserve who we are and we will come back stronger and better than ever.

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"We will preserve who we are and we will come back stronger and better than ever." - Al

 
 

KIMBERLY SHOAF
- MEXICO BEACH WELCOME CENTER -

 
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I am the president of the Mexico Beach Community Development Council, which is essentially the Mexico Beach Tourism Bureau, and I have been in my position for 9 years. My family moved to Port Saint Joe when I was in middle school, and I didn’t leave until I went to college. Then I came back after college, got a job at the welcome center and just worked my way up. The welcome center is kind of a hub for what’s happening in the city and you’re able to give people information about things that are coming or changing and you’re able to experience the excitement of small town happenings.

I love that Mexico Beach has a home feel to it, even if you’re not from here. You really get a sense of what the community is all about, even if you’re only here for a few days. It’s a friendly, beach side community and no one tries to be anything that they’re not. It’s just a great little piece of paradise. The visitors that we get to interact with at the welcome center really reassure why I want to do my job every day and also reassure that Mexico Beach is such an incredible destination for visitors. We see people who are coming into town for the first time, but also people who have been coming here for 30+ years who are now bringing kids and grandkids who are getting to experience family memories and rediscover what a gem this place is.

The storm started brewing over the weekend, but that Monday really was the first time I was made aware of it. We had been dealing with the Red Tide issue the week before so I was focused on wrapping up things with that and paying for meals at Gulf Foods for workers that had helped. I saw the storm on the TV when I was there and I just kept saying that it wasn’t a big deal, because it hadn’t even entered the Gulf yet. They said the previous storm a few months ago would be bad, but it died off, so I was not about to believe them this time. However, it started to strengthened and the projected paths weren’t shifting all that much, putting it between Pensacola and Alligator Point. Mid afternoon I got a phone call that Gulf County Schools were cancelling school for the rest of the week and I was just irked because I couldn’t believe they were serious.

My house was in an evacuation zone and I was like “I’m not leaving. This thing hasn’t even become a Category 1 yet. This is ridiculous.” We ended up closing the welcome center about 30 minutes early on Monday. We took Tuesday and Wednesday off and just assumed we’d be back in Thursday, maybe Friday if it took out some trees and the power. I went home for a typical Monday night, but I kept teetering on whether we should leave or not. It became a 2 on Tuesday. I talked with my husband and figured, since the girls already didn’t have school and we had already closed the office, that we might as well make the best of the time off.

So we left Tuesday mid morning to go to Orlando and my husband stayed behind because of his job with the natural gas company in Port Saint Joe. It continued to strengthen and the cone had narrowed in between Panama City and Apalachicola so I knew we would get some type of impact, but I was hoping we would be on the west side. I figured that way it would take out some of the beach and dunes, but we’d fair ok.



I had the news on constantly, I was checking email and watching on social media what was happening. Then I saw the footage of the hurricane hitting and my beach cam went offline. Someone captured Toucan’s being blown away and that was the moment my heart sank. I had no idea what I was going to come back to. After the storm, I couldn’t get in touch with my husband because there was no cell service, but he finally got a call out to me and it was so hard to understand and hear him. I told him to keep repeating what he was saying so I could piece it together and when I finally did, I realized he was saying “Our house is gone.”

So I left Orlando Thursday and got to Tallahassee. I ended up getting to Port Saint Joe on Friday and I drove up to my house and I just lost it. I walked in through what used to be a solid brick wall and you can see all through the house. Furniture is everywhere and it was a huge mess. It was also the first time I had seen my husband since I left on Tuesday. My office was still standing, but had no roof. It was so strange to walk back in because it was as if I had walked in to what it would’ve looked like on Tuesday morning, but it was just dirty. Everything was dry.

Where do I go from here? My job is completely funded by bed tax of short term rentals in Mexico Beach which are gone. I saved what I could out of the welcome center and we’ve had a board meeting to line up our next steps. One of the RV park’s is already back up and running. The condos were spared to the point where they could be reopened faster than other things. We’ve teamed up with a good PR company to let people know that we are back online and that we’re still here. We’re able to help communicate what else is open and we are taking steps in a forward direction to the new era of Mexico Beach. It will change what Mexico Beach is, but hopefully not the degree of taking away what people love about it. It will still be this small coastal quaint town that loves the beach and family friendly atmosphere.

The old Welcome Center had to be torn down, but we already have a temporary location back up and we are open. It’s sad to lose the history of the building, but in a good way, we’ve outgrown the space so it will be great to have a new space to showcase businesses and make a better welcome center space. The canal cleanup has begun and the beach restoration is a big priority. I’d love to say by Spring and Summer, we’ll have some properties to rent, the beach will be accessible and people will have places to eat and shop.

Michael wiped out so much, but it’s created a blank canvas and now the community can address some of the issues that might not have benefitted the residents or the city in the past. We have an exciting future ahead and we’ll be able to write another chapter showing how great we will continue to be. Tourism will continue to be our biggest economic driver because people love coming to this area and love this community. We are making steps every day. Trash piles are being picked up, people are moving back into their homes, and utilities are back online. Mexico Beach as a destination can write an even better story about it’s unique, coastal community, and how resilient we are and how we will come back better than before.

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"MEXICO BEACH AS A DESTINATION CAN WRITE AN EVEN BETTER STORY ABOUT IT’S UNIQUE, COASTAL COMMUNITY, AND HOW RESILIENT WE ARE AND HOW WE WILL COME BACK BETTER THAN BEFORE." - KIMBERLY